The Year of the Lord’s Favour

Readings
1 Corinthians 12.12–31a
Luke 4.14–21

We held a long-planned service last week, and so held our Day of Mourning service today rather than last Sunday. In this service, we remember the truth of our history and honour the culture of Australia’s First Peoples, their families and the next generations.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. — Martin Luther King, Letter from Birmingham Jail

In choosing this passage from Isaiah to read in his hometown synagogue, [Jesus] announces the year of the jubilee, that all-bets-are-off year described in detail in Leviticus 25. Debts forgiven, slaves freed, bad real-estate transactions redeemed—economic, agrarian, and even domestic life in the year of jubilee will be quite unlike life as most people live it, which is why scholars have had their doubts about whether the jubilee was ever actually observed in ancient Israel. — Feasting on the Gospels—Luke, Vol.1

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I’d like to make two brief comments today. The first is to quote St Paul:

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it…

We often talk about being church members, but I’m not sure we always get what St Paul meant. We’re not members of the church like being members of a book club or a knitting circle. 

We’re members of the church like being members of a body—the body of Christ. We don’t often use the word ‘member’ like that these days, but Paul is using the word ‘member’ to mean organs, or parts, of a body.

The closest we get these days is watching a grisly forensic pathology show on tv where someone ‘dismembers’ their victim. 

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it…

We do know that. I know what it’s like to have back problems, and when your back really hurts that’s all you can think about. Or if you have a really bad toothache, or you have a spot on your skin that’s looking like it’s changing. You tend to focus on that.

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it…

That’s an indication of how close we are to be in the church. You may not feel close to every single person to that degree, but it’s beyond sad when a member isn’t that close to anyone in the church. 

A lot of members of Christ’s body have suffered in our lifetimes. We can name asylum seekers, LGBTIQ people, or the First Peoples of this country. 

When they suffer, we all suffer. And the church does suffer, even if individuals within the church don’t care at all. The church suffers because it becomes known as a place where people don’t care. A house of hypocrisy.

The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress has done a great job of reminding us of what has been done to First Peoples; it has sought to exercise its own life and make its own decisions within the Uniting Church; it has invited us to go further in covenanting with them; it has challenged us to recognise continuing Indigenous sovereignty; and it has extended a gracious hand of forgiveness and fellowship to us as Second Peoples. Yet, 

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it…

Indigenous people have suffered since Europeans came to this land, and they continue to suffer.

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Filed under Church & world, Epiphany Season, Lament, RCL, sermon

Spirit-wind, Spirit-fire

Readings
Acts 8.14–17
Luke 3.15–17, 21–22

Baptism is Christ’s gift.
It is the sign by which the Spirit of God
joins people to Jesus Christ
and incorporates them into his body, the Church.

In his own baptism in the Jordan by John,
Jesus identified himself with humanity
in its brokenness and sin;
that baptism was completed in his death and resurrection.
By God’s grace,
baptism plunges us into the faith of Jesus Christ,
so that whatever is his may be called ours.
By water and the Spirit we are claimed as God’s own
and set free from the power of sin and death.

Thus, claimed by God
we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit
that we may live as witnesses to Jesus Christ,
share his ministry in the world and grow to maturity,
awaiting with hope the day of our Lord Jesus. — from Uniting in Worship 2

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Some of you know that I used to be part of an Open Brethren congregation as a young man. When the Brethren talk about baptism, they seem to be describing quite a different thing to baptism in churches like the Uniting Church. 

Briefly, the Brethren only baptise adults. And they say that a person should only be baptised once they have been converted, once they are someone who ‘has’ the Holy Spirit inside them. 

We baptise people of any age. I’ve baptised old people, children, babies—including babies that were about to die. 

What can a baby who is about to die bring to the life of the church? We don’t baptise people for what they can bring to us, although a dying baby brings so very much. We baptise people to declare and demonstrate the infinite grace of the triune God. 

Why did John baptise people? Luke tells us that John the Baptiser

went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins… 

‘A baptism of repentance.’ What on earth was that?

Well, to repent is to change your mind, it is to turn around and move in another direction. John’s baptism signified a change of life. 

According to Luke (3.15), 

the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah…

But John was preparing the way for the Messiah, Jesus. And repentance, changing your life, was the way to prepare.

And when the Messiah came, John said,

He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

What on earth?

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Going another Way

In the west, today is the Day of the Epiphany. An epiphany is an unexpected experience of an enlightenment, a new and deeper understanding of life. When the ‘wise men’ or Magi visited Jesus, they had an epiphany, and became even wiser. 

In the eastern churches, Christmas begins today at sunset. Happy Christmas to brothers and sisters who are about to celebrate this sacred Day!

 

Reading
Matthew 2.1–12

It might have been just someone else’s story;
Some chosen people get a special king,
We leave them to their own peculiar glory,
We don’t belong, it doesn’t mean a thing.
But when these three arrive they bring us with them,
Gentiles like us, their wisdom might be ours;
A steady step that finds an inner rhythm,
A pilgrim’s eye that sees beyond the stars.
They did not know his name but still they sought him,
They came from otherwhere but still they found;
In palaces, found those who sold and bought him,
But in the filthy stable, hallowed ground.
Their courage gives our questing hearts a voice
To seek, to find, to worship, to rejoice. — Malcolm Guite, ‘The Magi’ in Sounding the Seasons: Seventy sonnets for the Christian Year

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We call them ‘wise men’, but my guess is that most of us would discount their wisdom today. It was the so-called wisdom of astrology, seeing signs in the heavens, trying to predict the future from the wanderings of planets through the constellations. Yet this time, it seemed to have worked.

We call them wise men, but the name the scriptures give them is ‘magi’. Magi is like our words magic and magician. I’m going to call them magi.

The magi weren’t what we think of as magicians; they were part of a Persian priestly group whose astrological wisdom brought them mostly respect, but also some mockery. 

We know the story, how they saw a star that they interpreted to foretell the birth of a new king in Judea. So they followed this strange new star to—well, not to little Bethlehem. Not at first. When they arrived in Judaea, they went to the logical place, the place you’d expect a new king to be born. They went to the big smoke. Jerusalem. 

And in the big smoke, they saw the big man himself. Herod.

Who else would know about a new king, right?

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Human as Jesus

Reading
Luke 2.41–52

 

…our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made Man.
 — Charles Wesley, ‘Let earth and heaven combine’

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It’s quite normal these days for people not to believe in God. For example, I met a man at a party in Chile when we were visiting our daughter a few years ago. He asked me what I did, so I told him I was a pastor. He said, ‘So you believe in God? I am an atheist.’ I sized the situation up as quickly as I could and suggested we have a chat over a bottle of wine. (We were in Chile, after all!)

My new friend readily agreed. 

We had a good conversation (he spoke English quite well, which was good as my Spanish was pretty ordinary back then). 

Predictably, neither of us convinced the other. But honestly, I wasn’t trying to convince him; I was just trying to build bridges. And share a bottle of good Chilean wine.

He was surprised that I thought that God could save people who weren’t Christians. That God could save even atheists. He asked me if I taught that, and I said that I did.

Whatever teaching he had received about God, it seems that it was of a God who is remote and implacable. A God who sees your sins and takes note of each and every one. A God who balances the books at the end of your life by throwing you into hell.

He had rejected that God. I told him that I have too. In fact, I also didn’t believe in the God that he didn’t believe in. I joined him in his unbelief in that God.

The God I do believe in is not remote; I believe in Immanuel, God with us. I believe in the God who came to us in Jesus Christ. A God who took risks to win our hearts. 

A human God, who needs his mother Mary to feed him with her milk and to change his nappy. A human God who passed through the vulnerable years of childhood, and who was once twelve. 

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The Third with them

Readings
Micah 5.2–5a
Luke 1.39–55

The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.…This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Advent sermon, http://enemylove.com/subversive-magnificat-mary-expected-messiah-to-be-like/

Jesus was born to be a marginal person. He was conceived by Mary when she was unwed .… Thus, while the birth of Jesus to Mary was divinely justified, it was nevertheless socially condemned. Jesus, as well as his parents, was marginalised from the time of his conception. — Jung Young Lee, Marginality: The Key to Multicultural Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 79

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This is one of the very few passages of scripture in which only women appear. It may be the only one in the New Testament; the only other one in all scripture that I can think of is the story of Ruth, where Ruth, her mother-in-law Naomi and sister-in-law Orpah are heading out of Moab towards Bethlehem. Orpah, of course, returns to Moab but Ruth goes on with Naomi.

But today, we have Elizabeth and Mary. As I said, alone. No man in sight. And really, men are given scarce credit for this scenario. 

You know, if Luke chapter 1 were a film, Mary would be the star and Elizabeth her co-star. Her husband Zechariah would be a supporting actor and poor Joseph would be an extra. With his name in very small print.

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“Enjoy But Don’t Inhale!”

via “Enjoy But Don’t Inhale!”

Wise words on ‘religion’ from Rev Canon Rosie Harper, at a time—thanks to our governing incompetocracy—when Australia may soon have a discussion on that very subject.

 

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Friday, 14 December, 2018 · 15:20

A Second Naivete

Readings
Luke 1.68–79
Luke 3.1–6

 

…scholars had to learn to read the Bible again through lenses ground by faith and theology, including the theological reading of Scripture developed in the first Christian centuries and in the Middle Ages. It was necessary, in other words, to practise the ecumenism of time when reading and trying to understand the Bible.

And what is true for biblical scholars is surely true for other believers. We, too, must learn to approach the Bible with what the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur once called a ‘second naivete’—not the naivete of the child, but the openness to wonder and mystery that comes from having passed through the purifying fires of modern knowledge without having one’s faith in either revelation or reason reduced to ashes and dust. — George Weigel, ‘Second Naivete: Reading the Christmas story with Benedict XVI’.

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A granddad is reading stories to his young granddaughter, stories he loved as a boy. They may be the Narnia tales, or Winnie the Pooh, or Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. 

Granddad loves this as much as Granddaughter. Why not, they’re sharing precious time together and creating memories. But Granddad hasn’t picked these stories up for years. As he grew up, he’d learned that bears don’t talk and that for them piglets are food not friends. Secret worlds like Narnia don’t exist. And gumnuts don’t talk. 

He’d got on with life instead, building a career, mowing the lawn, having a family which this dear little child is part of.

Now, he’s not just enjoying being with his granddaughter, though that would be enjoyment enough; he is connecting with these children’s stories in a new way, a way that awakens him to something within, something he can’t quite put his finger on. 

He knows the wardrobe is just a wardrobe. He knows there’s no point going off to find the Hundred-Acre Wood. He knows it’s all imagination, yet—at the same time—it does seem bigger and vaster than him. 

Granddaughter just loves the stories. And snuggling with Granddad.

She is perfectly happy to accept that Winnie the Pooh is real—and now, when she sees an open wardrobe door she feels something… Is it a thrill or a chill? She doesn’t always know. 

They’re both happy to have read the story, and they go to bed contented, but for different reasons. 

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